Is Ground Turkey Healthy?
Ground turkey is swapped in for ground beef a lot these days. But is it healthy? From protein to calories, we break things down.
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The Low Down on Ground Turkey
More and more people are limiting their consumption of red and highly processed meats today, and ground turkey is an incredibly popular choice to swap in for beef.
However, I get a lot of questions about whether or not this swap is a wise choice, and whether or not people should consider ground chicken instead.
So I figured I’d do a deep dive into this for those interested.
What Is It Made From?
The ground turkey found at the supermarket is a mix of dark and light meat. The dark meat is taken from the thighs and drumsticks while the light meat is from the breast. These blends also include some skin and fat.
Because of the grinding process and addition of a few ingredients—like rosemary extract, for example, which is added for flavor and to sustain color—ground turkey is technically “processed”. But not in the same way as the “processed meats” we speak of—like bacon, salami, etc.— that have links to certain cancers. This is where people may get a little confused, leading them to question whether or not ground turkey is healthy.
Different Blends Available
When you’re browsing the meat department at the supermarket, there are three types of blends available:
- 85% lean / 15% fat—As far as saturated fat goes, this option isn’t very different from ground beef and this is likely where people are getting the idea that the difference between ground turkey and ground beef are negligible. This variety of turkey is rich in dark meat, which is taken from the thighs and drumsticks—both known to have a higher percentage of fat than white breast meat. But let’s not make this choice the villain! Dark meat is high in iron, selenium, and zinc, and it’s lauded for being moist, flavorful, and the preferred blend for turkey burgers, meatballs, and meatloaf.
- 93% lean / 7% fat—This blend is the “happy medium” and the most popular option. It’s leaner than the 85/15 blend, but it still carries out good moisture and flavor. I use this one the most, even in my burgers and meatballs, and they’ve always come out perfect. It’s also a fantastic blend for a turkey bolognese sauce or juicy turkey tacos!
- 99% fat free—This blend is usually made up of all white breast meat and has zero saturated fat. Because of this, it can get drier more quickly, so you want to be careful when cooking it. This blend is ideal for something where you’re using a lot of sauce in order to prevent that dried-out texture, like lasagna or sloppy joes.
Let’s get into the macronutrient nitty gritty for each lean-to-fat ratio option.
Since varying cooking and preparation methods affect calorie amount, I’m showing nutritional information for uncooked portions.
Measured at 4 oz, uncooked:
- Protein: 19g
- Total Fat: 14g
- Total Carbs: 0
- Protein: 23g
- Total Fat: 7g
- Total Carbs: 0g
99% Fat Free
- Protein: 26g
- Total Fat: 2g
- Total Carbs: 0g
It’s clear to see why the 93/7 blend reigns supreme in the world of ground turkey. It has half the fat of the 85/15 blend and 4g more protein, and it has 5g more fat than the fat-free variety, giving us a little more juice and flavor.
Ground Turkey vs Ground Beef
When it comes to choosing between the two, it comes down to what an individual’s goals are. In most cases, weight loss and heart health are the two big factors when reducing red meat consumption in favor of lean proteins.
In general, consuming less saturated fat is ideal. But both choices are nutritious foods! They both give us the protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals we require, and although red meat has been vilified over the years, it can absolutely be part of a healthy diet in moderation.
That’s the key to any healthy lifestyle: moderation and balance.
You can find an in-depth nutritional comparison here, but here’s a quick glance to give you a quick visual.
How Many Calories Are in Ground Turkey?
Calories depend on the lean-to-fat ratio and, in the end, how the dish itself is cooked and prepared. But let’s crack down on uncooked ground turkey to get an idea.
Measured at 4 oz, uncooked:
- 85/15 Blend: 203 kcal
- 93/7 Blend: 170 kcal
- 99% Fat Free: 120 kcal
Ground Turkey vs Ground Chicken
These are both great options when it comes to heart health. Turkey and chicken are both lean proteins and there’s no real significant difference in vitamin and mineral content.
If you’re being overly meticulous about it, there are things to consider—like how a chicken breast has slightly more protein than a turkey breast, and a turkey thigh has a little more protein than a chicken thigh. But for the most part, they’re one in the same.
The Consensus: Is Ground Turkey Healthy?
In general, ground turkey is a great option for anyone. It’s a great source of protein, vitamins, and minerals while also being low in saturated fat. It contains more polyunsaturated fat than ground beef, but polyunsaturated fat is a healthier type of fat, so this is a win.
Of course it’s super important to note that if you have a medical condition or a specific situation, always check with your medical provider for guidance.
Ground Turkey Recipes for You to Try
- Best Turkey Burger
- Stir Fry With Cabbage
- Instant Pot Sloppy Joes
- Homemade Lasagna With Ground Turkey Meat Sauce
- Instant Pot Bolognese
- Creamy Tomato Instant Pot Pasta With Ground Turkey & Spinach
- Unstuffed Cabbage Rolls
- Instant Pot Tacos
- Easy Ground Turkey Meatballs With Sauce
- Easy Turkey Meatloaf With Oats
- Garlic & Ginger Meatballs With Hot Honey Glaze
- Tender Greek Turkey Burgers
The turkey alone, without added ingredients for cooking, is low in cholesterol. If cholesterol is a concern, talk to your medical provider and a dietician for guidance.
Technically, because of the grinding process, ground turkey is processed. But not in the same way we talk about processed meats like deli meats, hot dogs, bacon, etc. So you don’t have to hold the same concerns as you would for those specific processed meats.
Ground turkey is low in calories, fat, and high in protein, so it’s a great option when trying to shed a few lbs. However it also depends on your health and your situation. So be sure to speak with your medical provider and a dietician if you have health concerns.